Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - A Hijacking

Directed by: Tobias Lindholm

Produced by: Rene Ezra
Tomas Radoor

Screenplay by: Tobias Lindholm

Starring: Pilou Asbæk
Søren Malling
Dar Salim
Rolland Møller
Gary Skjoldmose Porter
Abdihakin Asgar

Music by: Hildur Guonadottir

Cinematography by: Magnus Nordenhof Jønck

Editing by: Adam Nielsen

Studio: Nordisk Film

Distributed by: Nordisk Film Biografdistribution (Denmark)
Magnolia Home Entertainment (United States, DVD)
Arrow Films (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): September 20, 2012 (Denmark)
January 10, 2013 (United States, Palm Springs International Film Festival)
May 10, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 99 minutes

Country: Denmark

Language: Danish

Production budget: DKK 15, 500, 000

Box-office revenue: $413, 276 (United States, as of September 27, 2013)

I suppose you can say that this review is brought to you in collaboration with Paul Oakenfold's Ready Steady Go, which I've been listening to much of the past couple of hours while working and getting up to various shebang. Anywho, I imagine that this might be finished over the course of two days, so don't be surprised if this review seems a bit fragmented, because I'm just getting a head start on the first two paragraphs. I'm trying to arrange a cinema trip at the moment, and I'd say I'm getting through on average one new movie a day, so for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted. (Near on autopilot, it's any wonder I take an off-season after the Oscars!)

So, yesterday's (and today's) review is for A Hijacking, a Danish thriller which was released originally in it's home country in September 2012, but only received a limited release on these shores in May 2013, and therefore it is to be reviewed as a movie from 2013. I managed to get a copy on DVD in Sainsbury's on the cheap, and I assume it was in a supermarket because the marketing over here really plays to recent trend of Scandinavian thrillers. It's strange in that not only a particular genre, but works of a genre from a particular region, specifically that of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The first major work of this 'movement,' to use a term, was Stieg Larsson's posthumously published The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was a success in it's home country of Sweden, but when translated into English in 2008, really set the world on fire as a bona-fide literary phenomenon. I remember there was a time when everyone was reading that book, and for that reason I avoided it until a couple of years later, and found it to be one of the best thrillers I'd read in a long time. Since then, we've seen the international emergence of authors such as Norway's Jo Nesbo, and the crime fiction sub-genre from this region has really transcended various medium(s), with Denmark's Borgen and The Killing (a real international sensation - it had a run in the United Kingdom on BBC Four) ruling the television airways. For A Hijacking, various alumni from those two shows (including the two lead actors and writer-director Tobias Lindholm, a regular collaborator of Thomas Vinterberg) come together to work on this project. Perhaps unfortunately, it has the shadow of Captain Phillips hanging over the top of it, but let's get to it with a plot synopsis: Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbæk) is the cook among the crew of a Danish cargo ship which en route to their destination is hijacked by Somali pirates, and negotiations are orchestrated with the crews lives as bounty to extort their CEO Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling) of the company's money. The film's story alternates between the negotiations in Ludvigsen's office and the situation of the hijacked crew, with both stories interacting and weaving in and out of one another. Got it? Good!

Starting with the good regarding A Hijacking, it's a tightly knit movie. Much of the film, though going across two different groups of people in two different locations, is in small, enclosed spaces, and the maintenance of a consistent level of claustrophobia is something that the production designers and the cinematographer should be congratulated for. It is a cinematic space that is not only alien but relatable and entrenched in a reality that can at times be frightening. The two lead actors, Malling and Asbæk, are both very good in their parts. Instead of portraying his character as the faceless, cold representative of a company, what Malling does is depict him as a man with a real sense of empathy towards his employees, actively involving himself in the negotiations to bring them home. Also, an interesting point is that Malling's portrayal of Peter goes so far as to imply that it his essential humanity and how it affects him in the negotiation process which is also his greatest weakness. When cinema is sometimes full of these less than vaguely propagandistic portrayals of company men, Malling's part is refreshing. Also, that same humanity is vested by Asbæk in character of the ship's cook. Very much the film's equivalent to the everyman, he is the character through which we witness all the action of the movie, and Asbæk is subtle in ensuring that the character doesn't go too far into being an audience cypher, not forgetting that Mikkel needs to maintain a three-dimensionality. As I mentioned, it's a tight movie, and the same can be said for the editing. The movie comes to a running time just shy of a hundred minutes, which is just right. Also, it is cut in such a way that the juxtaposition, correlation and interaction of the two stories exist not just as chronologically appropriate, but also in terms of where the story is going. This is backed up by the use of a beautiful little minimalist score Hildur Guðnadóttir. It's a strange work, especially given the realistic aspect of the film, but when it comes in and the characters in a primarily dialogue-heavy picture have time to reflect upon their interactions, this is where the movie thrives best. Finally, writer-director Tobias Lindholm has done a uniformly solid job in terms of delivering this thriller. It is taut, intense and at the movie's best moments, eerily transcendent, touching upon the deepest recesses of our humanity.

However, while I did like A Hijacking a good bit, there are a couple of issues that deny it from being a great movie. As I mentioned, the film is at it's best when the minimalist score comes in and it plays out a bit like a silent movie, the actors' visual actions speaking more than words could. These strangely transcendent segments are few and far-between though in a dialogue heavy movie. Although for the most part it's satisfactory, the dialogue can get tiresome at times, and even though the short running time keeps it tight, they really couldn't have afforded any more. Furthermore, while I was impressed with the plot structure and the way the actors' portrayed their characters, I feel that the movie frankly lacks the additional depth that one needs to truly feel the movie. When I think of my favourite films, I always think of the many different things I fell in love with about a particular movie. Here unfortunately, and herein lies once again the subjectivity of film criticism itself, only a week after seeing I've found I've forgotten large chunks of the picture.

I had a couple of issues with A Hijacking, in that it is such a dialogue-heavy that it does get tiresome, and at one hundred minutes it really couldn't have afforded to be any longer. Also, I feel that it lacked the extra depth necessary to fully engage with the piece, and although it's only been a week since I've seen the movie, I've forgotten large chunks of it already. However, it's still a solid, taut piece of work. It's tightly wound, with the production design and the way it's shot having implications on the claustrophobia of the film. Also, the editing and how it causes the central storyline(s) to interweave and interact is a great piece of an appropriate emotional gauge and chronological timing. The two lead performances too by Søren Malling and Pilou Asbæk are strong and inflected with a real sense of humanity. Finally, writer-director Tobias Lindholm has done a mostly positive job in delivering a strong, intense, and at it's best, eerily transcendent thriller.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good (work's getting on, my brothers and sisters!)

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